Here we are with a nine week old, and I’m suddenly sleeping at night again, everyone is relatively healthy (besides the perma-mucus which I think has already set in for the winter for Little Brother); and I finally have the energy to update the blog again. I apologize for the long stretches between but whoa sleep deprivation is so intense! It’s like I become a different person. I can’t even remember what other things might be important to me besides sleep, the next feeding, laundry, diapers, etc. I feel like the other kids get a bit neglected (Disney 24/7 anyone? Here take the Play Doh and enjoy, unattended, I don’t even care about the consequences. It’s washable and non toxic. Go at it.). In fact I remember when Little Brother was born I was so desperate for sleep I would put on a Disney movie, lay down with Big Sis on the sofa, fall asleep and repeat as much as possible. I shudder remembering those days but it was survival, people. I wasn’t working and we couldn’t justify childcare, even part time. And without any family nearby in Greensboro, and the fact that my husband was working an unusually intense schedule that year, I was at the end of my rope. I’m thankful each day that while there’s no way to escape the sleep deprivation of a newborn, that past two months have never been as awful as it was two years ago.
And now I can see that we’re inching our way past that painful sleep deprivation phase again and I’m so excited. It’s also that period when the baby first starts becoming alert and interacting, when you start to get a sense for their personality. Having a baby smile at me is just about the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced and it has been no less thrilling with number three. I find myself being just as dopey and silly with him as I ever was trying to tease out a dimply smile from my first. I even felt just as overwhelmingly excited when he started cooing and reaching for toys. It’s just amazing to watch them as they grow so incredibly and terrifyingly quickly in the first year. It literally feels like Little Brother was just a baby, probably amplified by the fact that Baby Boy is wearing mostly Little Brothers’ hand-me-downs, which haven’t even had time to collect dust.
Anyway, I should catch up on everything that’s happened in the past few weeks since I last wrote. Though much of my day is spent sitting and nursing Baby Boy, life never seems to slow down. Even having a reduced work schedule for both of us, away from homeownership responsibilities, lawn care, etc.; we still manage to always be incredibly busy.
In mid-September my parents came for a visit. This was very exciting for everyone. It was their first trip to Europe/Spain/Alicante and there were a million and one things I wanted to share with them. But mostly I wanted them to meet their new grandson and also come away with a sense for what it was like to live here so they have a deeper understanding of this important part of my life. It was so much fun to share Alicante with them, especially as it’s a city I’ve come to love. I think they enjoyed it quite a bit. They definitely liked trying some of the local food, the incredible amount of walking we do and just the time experiencing a different way of living. I wish they could have stayed longer, but am thankful for the two weeks they were here.
While they were here, we celebrated Big Sis and Little Brother’s birthdays. We had a little family celebration for Big Sis back in August, but put off having a birthday party for her because of the imminent arrival of Baby Brother. But she’s been asking and asking and asking about when her birthday party would be, and I knew I couldn’t get away with skipping one. So, having a party for them in September, in-between their birthdays, made sense. It was a pirate theme as they both love “Jake” from Disney’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates (“and me,” as Big Sis always adds). The party was a crazy sugar fest with music and stories and face paining and we enjoyed it so much!
Since my parents were here and we had a couple of extra hands, we also attempted a family photo shoot. It was pretty much a disaster. While most family with small children photo shoots are really challenging, one typically ends up with a few great pics. Not in our case. They were all pretty horrible. Ah well. Here’s a bit of a look at the reality of a five person family with three kids under 4 photo shoot:
Because my parents were flying back to the U.S. through Madrid and because we had to take our new son to the U.S. embassy to “present him” in person along with a fat ton of paperwork in order to claim his U.S. citizenship and get his passport to return to the U.S. in January; we all traveled to Madrid the day before my parents left to spend one day touring a city I’ve come to love almost as much as Alicante (sorry, beach wins every time).
We had a great time checking out the Puerta del Sol, the Plaza Mayor, el retiro, el Gran Via, etc. It was quick and fun. My parents left very early on a Sunday morning. We were staying at a super small hotel and I (up nursing of course) heard them as they checked out. I grabbed Baby Boy and ran out to give them one last hug, and my mom and I noticed that Baby Boy was burning up. The temps in Madrid were much cooler, and I’d put him in some snuggly warm pjs for the night and figured I’d just over bundled him. My mom looked a bit less convinced. She was remembering that I’d complained that he hadn’t nursed well the two days prior. I was still too groggy to put it all together and they were running out the door so I didn’t give it much thought until a couple of hours later when I realized Baby Boy was still burning up. My husband and I were at that moment trying to check out of our hotel and were on our way to his aunt and uncle’s house in Madrid where we would stay for a quick visit with them before going to the embassy in the morning and leaving. Fortunately, we found an open pharmacy (it was a Sunday so of course most everything here is closed), and we purchased a thermometer. We found that Baby Boy did have a temp, around 100.7 F. I felt immediately sick to my stomach. He was two days shy of seven weeks old. A new fever record in our house. Little Brother also had a fever at a tender age, though for him it was around 10 weeks. And that panicked us of course. We didn’t have to go to the ER that time because our doctor told us that as long as his fever remained below 100.4, we could treat him at home. His fever went up to 100.3 and then started coming down. But I knew from that experience that we needed to go to a hospital.
To say I was tense was an understatement. My husband wasn’t sure what hospital to go to, so he started making phone calls. It was still pretty early on a Sunday morning so no one was answering. We took a cab to his aunt and uncle’s house. They were traveling back from a quick trip out of town themselves and had left their keys with some neighbors. I collapsed on a bed with Baby Brother and fell asleep while we waited for someone to call and give us some advice as to where to go. A couple of hours later, as soon as my feverish baby woke up, I took his temp. It had come down to 99.5. Around this time, some friends (one of which is a doctor and the other a nurse), called to tell us which hospital to go to in Madrid and to go right away. We explained that Baby Boy’s temp had come down and they said in that case we could probably hold off going to the ER, but not to hesitate if his temp went back up again. I checked his temp compulsively for the next 24 hours but thankfully, it went back to normal and he started nursing better so we thought he was going to be fine.
Because I was feeling more relaxed, when my husband’s aunt and uncle arrived, we had a great visit. I absolutely always enjoy seeing them and they always make us feel so incredibly welcome in their home. Their son, my husband’s cousin and his three handsome boys dropped in the next morning on their way to work/school and another treasured uncle was able to very briefly say hello as we made our way to the train station the next day. So we were certainly able to maximize our short time.
But the purpose of our visit came on Monday morning, when we took Baby Boy to the U.S. embassy in downtown Madrid. My husband’s aunt and uncle generously offered to watch Little Brother and Big Sis while we took care of business, so it was just the three of us. I had tediously prepared for months for this visit. The embassy provides very specific instructions online as to how to apply for citizenship, a social security card as well as a passport for a child born overseas. I had begun collecting the necessary paperwork and information a couple of months before our visit, as there are things one would never expect that are required. For example, proof of my marriage to my husband. Now, I’m a citizen and it’s not a legal requirement for the two of us to be married to have a child, so I was very surprised they would require a copy of our marriage license. Thankfully, we had brought that paper with us to Spain. I was also required to bring a copy of my divorce decree – which again, I’m trying to claim citizenship for my son, under my current name, with my current husband and have no idea why my divorce would factor into this in any way. With the help of my mom, I had to request that paperwork around six weeks before our trip as anything related to my divorce is in storage under a mountain of dust.
So, after all of the documents and copies of documents and baby passport photo (no fun, though we received lots of compliments from the officials on it being well done – I guess third time’s a charm?), proof of this and that, we finally were at the embassy and going through the paperwork. The first woman we spoke with was even complimenting me on being so organized and prepared when suddenly she stopped, “And what about the proof that you’ve lived in the U.S. for at least five years of your adult life?” She asked. I looked at her blankly. “Um, huh?” I managed. She went on to explain that while I had proof for one year, I needed proof of having lived in the U.S. for at least five years. I was super confused. I pulled out the list that the embassy had provided on their website, which I had even printed and brought with me, and doubled checked – nope, it most certainly didn’t say anywhere that I needed five years of proof. “Well, maybe you can just run home and grab some paperwork for us?” She suggested. I laughed, “I live in the U.S. and all of my paperwork is in storage. Anyway, even if I had it here, I’ve traveled here from Alicante just for this purpose and I can’t just ‘run home'”. I was almost in a panic when she said, “We’ll have you do an interview with one of our officers and perhaps he will know of another solution, especially since you have all of the rest of the paperwork in order.” I appreciated her being so nice, but I was dreading being told we didn’t have the paperwork.
We waited and waited and waited for over an hour as everyone else in line (behind us) went ahead for their interviews. I was worried our case was super complicated, and perhaps we wouldn’t even be seen that day when finally the officer called us up. He was American but looked Spanish and had a Spanish name – perhaps he had a background similar to my kids I wondered hopefully. He was not smiling at all though so I kept my mouth shut. He had us make a sworn statement, then he started questioning both of us on very random things from our background while staring at each of us intently. He asked about work, school, our kids’ births (all three), their full names, why my husband came to the U.S., etc. I finally offered to show him my other kids’ birth certificates and that’s when his serious look finally broke and he seemed to relax a little. “No need,” he said, waving his hand toward a computer screen he’d been looking at while questioning us, “I’ve got it all right here. I was just verifying the details with you guys.” Ah. Big Brother at work. Apparently our data was available online, just a few clicks and he could easily verify our lives in the U.S. Ugh, but at least we didn’t have to worry about returning to Madrid with more paperwork!
We made our way home and back to school the next day. All was well until the following night when I woke up around 3.30 am to feed Baby Brother. I picked him up and knew instantly that his fever was back. I took his temp to confirm – 100.7 F again. I began shaking and ran to wake up my husband (who was sleeping in another bedroom so we could both get more rest). “We need to go to the hospital right now!” I said. Always a nice way to be woken up in the middle of the night. To his credit, he hustled big time and we chatted for a while about what to do. It’s extra complicated of course because we have two other little ones and no one wants to wake them up in the middle of the night to go to the hospital (or expose them to germs unnecessarily). And, my husband can drive here and I can’t. And there’s no flipping way my baby is going to the hospital without me. So, we were at an impasse until morning. Thankfully my baby was nursing and then went back to sleep without crying so I felt like it wasn’t an emergency. But at the same time, I most certainly couldn’t sleep so I just held him in the dark until the sun came up.
We rushed around getting the kids ready for school and I put a few extra things in my purse-a couple of changes of clothes for baby and my ipad, in case I was going to be spending much of the day at the hospital. As soon as we had dropped both kids off, we ran over to the doctor’s office (like literally ran since we walk everywhere here). We went to make an appointment (for right now, please!) and a nurse overheard us and said that we should just go straight to the ER. The doctor said to come up first, so we did and he basically put his hand on Baby Boy and said, yep, this kid’s feverish – go go go! I ran to catch a cab while my husband went to get the car (I just didn’t have the patience to wait another 20-30 minutes for him to retrieve the car). When we arrived at the hospital and I explained to admissions why I was there, I didn’t wait for even a full minute. Baby was evaluated immediately and then was immediately taken to see a pediatrician. They did an exam, took blood and urine and sent them for analysis. At this point, my husband had arrived and we were having a cup of vending machine coffee while I nursed baby in the waiting room. They took his fever very seriously which gave me a ton of comfort. As I looked around the sad little toy area in the pediatric floor, I noticed that most of the toys were broken or missing parts. I realized I have the perfect place to give some of the toys away that we won’t be bringing back to the U.S.
After about an hour, they informed us that the blood and urine analysis were all clear and it seemed our baby was fighting a virus. As he was still burning up, they sent us to a room and told me we’d be there overnight for observation. While neat and clean, the accommodations were nothing like what I experienced for his birth just a few weeks before. This is the public health system and I had given birth using our private insurance. The room I was shown to was actually a glass cubicle in a line of cubicles. There were two cribs and two easy chairs in the room, and that was it – not even a bathroom!! Thankfully we didn’t end up having to share the cubicle with anyone but we most certainly weren’t alone. Besides the fact that one side of the room faced the main hallway of the pediatric wing (hello every single person walking by!), it was also in a line of cubicles with other families on either side of me. In the cubicle to my left was a mom and son who had been there for five days and were desperately bored. Her son was getting ready to be released, but she was losing her mind with not knowing how to entertain him or herself anymore. “There’s not even a TV or anything in these rooms!” she pointed out. I found the bathroom situation to be particularly tricky. I had to call for a nurse to come to my room so I could walk (a bit of a distance) to the closest bathroom, which was a toilet and a sink. If I’d been there for more than a day and a half, how on earth would I have showered? I really felt for the other families who were there with much more serious situations than I was. Especially as we were getting ready to be released the next morning and I almost collided with a nurse running down the hallway with a bowl full of blood.
In the meantime, my husband of course was at home most of the time I was there with my sick babe, taking care of our other two. My in-laws were thankfully able to come and feed the kids dinner and help put them to bed while my husband brought me a change of clothes and some toiletries. While I was in the cubicle, the nurse kept coming and asking me to put Baby Boy in the crib. I wasn’t trying to be difficult, but he just wanted to be held (he was miserable), and not just held, but held next to my naked chest. He screamed if he wasn’t able to nurse (comfort nursing), but was perfectly content snoozing if I held him next to me. This went on for hours, until finally the nurse came and insisted he go into the crib to lower his temp (her theory was my body heat was keeping his temp up). I finally agreed to her tactic as I’m certainly no expert. I held Baby Boy’s hands and sang to him while he screamed in the crib. After about twenty minutes of this torture, the pediatrician came in on his rounds to see us. He was disturbed at how upset Baby Boy was, he told me to take him out of the crib and hold him. The nurse was there and explained her point of view to him, but he disagreed (what a relief) and I wasn’t asked to put him down again. So I sat with him all night in the chair. If I’d had a bed, I might have been surprisingly comfortable, as once again, NO ONE came into my room all night to poke at us, and they turned off all the lights, even the hallway lights. And the very sick kiddos in the cubicles next to us slept quite soundly through the night.
Thankfully, the pediatrician came in the next morning and said since baby’s fever had finally come down, that we could go home. I was incredibly relieved. So happy that my baby didn’t seem to have anything serious and so happy we could go home to recover in peace and comfort. And so incredibly thankful we weren’t among the others there with much more serious problems. Baby Boy continued to get better through the next ten days, though very slowly; until he started getting worse again. Unfortunately, he developed an ear infection and we had to put him on antibiotics. Which he had an allergic reaction to. Yes, it was a glorious couple of weeks.
the glass cube:
trying out the crib
Two huge thumbs up to the public health system here, which I have found to be really fantastic. Again, assuming that something free will be not that great (and I’m sure it has some shortcomings I’m not aware of), it’s been super easy to navigate and I feel my children have been well cared for. In fact, the pediatrician we were assigned took it upon himself to look up the US vaccine schedule to ensure Baby Boy is on schedule when we return to the US, as the recommendations for Spain are slightly different and he’ll receive two rounds of shots before we return. How lucky we’ve been to have great medical care during this trip.
Unfortunately Baby Boy first spiked a fever just as Ebola arrived in Spain. Right when my fears about my tiny baby’s health were at their peak, the news about the nursing assistant in Madrid who contracted Ebola came out, along with the fact that she went about her life in Madrid for ten days, while contagious, before finally going to the hospital. While the details of her behavior are horrifying, I’m going to skip that for now and just say that the proximity of a person with Ebola, being at a hospital in Madrid around the same time I nearly took my tiny feverish baby along with my other two very young tots there caused me to seize up with terror. I literally kept playing the scenario over and over that we could have been exposed, no matter how ridiculous it seemed or how slim the chance or “how difficult Ebola is to catch”, I couldn’t calm down. It was most certainly a combination of the stress from my baby being so sick, me being even more sleep deprived as he was inconsolable day and night, and suddenly feeling so incredibly far away from home. For the first time, I told my husband I wanted to go home. And just as I was contemplating whether that was really a good idea, the news about Ebola in the US started coming out. It felt for a few days there that there was nowhere safe in the world for us to be and there was nothing I could do to protect my children from this virus.
Now, to provide a little background, I’ve actually been following the Ebola outbreak in Africa for many months. I went on a mission trip to South Africa ten years ago, and while that is quite a vast distance from the Ebola outbreak, ever since my trip to South Africa, I’ve continued to have an interest in the news coming out of the continent. In this case, I was probably one of the people who felt a tiny flicker of fear around the virus eventually spreading outside of West Africa, and when it finally happened I was both not surprised and nervous. So throwing the timing of everything else that was happening in our little house, one might understand how I was a basket case for a few days. Yes, I understand the actual risks (according to the experts and the information that’s available), and the proportions and all of that. But once your head goes to a worst case scenario, it’s hard to stop that train. I’d also like to say that the people who have been effected by this horrible virus are in my prayers, as are the incredibly brave and selfless healthcare workers caring for its victims. Thankfully, with my baby now being completely better and a week of significantly more sleep and a clear head, I am no longer panicked about coming into contact with the virus.
One of the other outcomes of this lengthy illness for Baby Boy was that he nursed less, significantly less in the first five or six days he was sick. When we were at the hospital and I saw his weight loss for the first time (around 1/2 a pound!), I was devastated. New moms work so hard to make sure their babies are eating and gaining – it’s practically our sole focus for the first few months, and to see the scale go backward was just heartbreaking. And knowing we’d not only have to help him regain the lost weight, but catch back up to where he should have been – but of course it’s not that simple when nursing is it? Because at this point my milk supply was reduced, and I’d also have to work on increasing it, again. I felt like we’d be set back from this illness for weeks or even months. I consoled myself with the fact that we weren’t returning to the U.S. for several months, so we’d at least have extra family support while working on getting back on track.
At the end of the first week of the illness, I took Baby Boy to a health food store near me to see if they had any supplements that might help. I walked in and tried to explain that I needed something to boost my supply. There was a lot of gesturing to my breasts and the breasts of the two employees helping me, but once we all felt confident we were on the same page, they handed me a package of barley pills. They could see I was a bit skeptical, so they suggested I take them for the next three days and promised that if my supply wasn’t up by then, they’d gladly return the pills – the bottle was around $15, so not super cheap but not insanely expensive either. I decided to take their offer and they were absolutely right. After two days, I had an incredible amount of milk! In the first few days I had to pump the extra ounces out, and poor Baby Boy was choking during feedings due to the force of my letdown. Needless to say, I was thrilled to have that little secret weapon. The results of Baby Boy’s weight gain were incredibly fast as well – he gained around a pound in about a week! It was amazing and we were so relieved to see him getting healthy so quickly after such a severe illness.
And this past week has been even better – he’s sleeping better (without me holding him!), he’s nursing faster and he’s playing and smiling all the time. In fact, he’s the smiliest baby I’ve had. So far, while he’s smiled a few times at other family members, he saves most of them for me (so therefore he has me completely wrapped around his tiny sweet little finger). He is so happy when we’re together that he even manages a little laugh here and there.
how we get around (& me pushing the other two in a double stroller)
While I’m so pleased that things are back to normal with our little baby, I’m also enjoying the other kids a lot more (now that I have more hands free time and emotional availability). Big Sis, who I’ve written a lot about, has been doing so well in school. She’s there full days and is truly upset when the weekend comes and she can’t go. She is constantly recognizing her friends when we walk around Alicante. And her Spanish is just incredible, to the point where she’s forgetting some of her English (not worried a bit about this), and she sometimes has to ask her Papa to translate something for her so she can tell me about something that happened at school. This time has also allowed me to freshly remember that while she can be challenging, her personality is truly exceptional. She is so confident about herself and always stands up for what she believes is right. She is one of those people that could truly change the world, she’s such a force to be reckoned with. Though we do have to work a bit on teaching her boundaries when it comes to strangers. Because she has no fear, she’ll approach anyone and say what is on her mind without hesitation. This can be both wonderful and fun, and also well, a bit embarrassing. We were at the train station a few weeks ago to buy our tickets to Madrid. My husband was talking to the agent and I was standing near some benches with the kids. A man who seemed to be homeless was sitting on a bench near us, eating a package of crackers. Big Sis sat down right next to him, and said, “Hola.” In her friendly way. He gave her a slight nod an went back to eating. She continued to stare at him and as I was trying to think of a diplomatic way to get her to come closer to me, she leaned over and asked him if he could share his snack with her. He paused eating for a moment, glanced at her, gave me a look (surprised/dirty, I’m not sure) and continued eating. I was speechless. I asked her to come and stand near me, but she stubbornly refused and asked once or twice more if the man could share her snack with her. Just as I was about to melt into the floor my face was so burning hot, my husband came and we left. Big Sis and I had a long chat about strangers and asking random people for food on the way home. But she really does make life so much fun, I am never bored with her around!
they do love each other much of the time!!
I’ve been thinking about this whole crazy turn of events – what I mean by that is pretty much everything that’s happened to me in the past five years, 99% of which has been amazingly good. I look back on me before, and I have mentioned several times that I never pictured myself with three kids. I realized something important about that – it’s because it was just me. Now that it’s the two of us – my husband and I, I can see how three just makes sense. I don’t even know if this is where the journey ends or not, I just know there were others I dated before who I couldn’t picture having even one child with. I know how important one’s partner is in parenting. I just never realized how influential it could be on the kid count. This insight makes me even more grateful for not only my beautiful children but also for the amazing partner that is my husband. I know for an absolute fact that I would not survive my current life stage if it weren’t for him. And because of him, I’m not only surviving, I’m enjoying it SO much. Thanks for being in this 100% with me.